‘The Honeymooners’: Jackie Gleason Declined Initial Plans for Ralph Kramden’s Job

The Honeymooners, although relatively short-lived, is among the most beloved classic television shows of all time. The series took a deep dive into the lives of working-class families and helped them feel heard. The main character, Ralph Kramden’s job as a New York City bus driver, was particularly iconic, but it almost didn’t happen that way. The Honeymooners star, Jackie Gleason, dismissed the first job writers gave his character, paving the way for Ralph to become a bus driver.

Ralph Kramden was originally going to be a police officer

Fans of The Honeymooners probably can’t imagine Ralph as anything other than a bus driver. Ralph’s job became instantly connected to the iconic character, and it is hard to picture him as anything else. Still, his job as a bus driver was not the writers’ original intent. Instead, the development team had planned on making Ralph a police officer. Ralph was only portrayed as a bus driver at the insistence of Gleason.

Audrey Meadows, left, as Alice Kramden and Jackie Gleason as her husband Ralph in a scene from 'The Honeymooners'
Audrey Meadows and Jackie Gleason | Paramount Television/Getty Images

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While the cast mentioned Ralph’s job repeatedly during the show’s short-lived run, he was never seen driving a bus on the show. Ralph was shown at the bus depot and appeared in the driver’s seat of a New York City bus for promotional photos, but he was never seen actively driving.

Jackie Gleason dismissed the job idea

Gleason dismissed the notion of Ralph serving as a police officer. He didn’t feel an authoritative job would suit the character. According to IMDb, Gleason was concerned that Ralph being in a position of power and authority could alienate him from viewers and strip away the very fabric of what the role was about.

Jackie Gleason, Audrey Meadows, Art Carney and Joyce Randolph on the bus in a promotional portrait for 'The Honeymooners'
Promotional photo for ‘The Honeymooners’ | Paramount/Getty Images

The show’s writers quickly changed things around, leading to Ralph serving as a bus driver. His best friend, Ed Norton, had a similarly service-oriented career path. The character, portrayed by Art Carney, worked as a plumber in New York City’s sewer system. He once said he was the “sub-supervisor in the subdivision of the department of subterranean sanitation.”

Jackie Gleason and his The Honeymooners character have been honored by transit workers

Jackie Gleason’s instincts were correct, his position as a bus driver endeared him to the masses, and transit workers have a particular affinity to the character. According to The New York Times, Ralph became an honorary member of the Transport Workers Union. The actor who portrayed the star also has a bus depot named after him in Brooklyn, the borough that the Kramden’s called home.

Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, Joyce Randoph and Audrey Meadows stand by a banner announcing a raffle for a new TV on the set of 'The Honeymooners'
The cast of ‘The Honeymoooners’ | Paramount Television/Getty Images

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Gleason died in 1987 at the age of 71. While he had some public health struggles, Gleason kept his cancer diagnosis private until his death. The famed actor’s actual cause of death was liver and colon cancer. Gleason reportedly knew his time was running out. According to the AP News, Gleason changed his will the day before he died, increasing the inheritance of his two daughters and his beloved secretary and lowering the inheritance of his third wife, Marilyn Gleason.